With a little help from my neighbors Town house madness: Why I am happy where I didn't think I could be

Blackriver Photography - dein Familienfotograf DüsseldorfWhy is it hard to make friends over 30, the kind of friends you can rely on in a crisis? Maybe it doesn’t have to be. You just have to move to the right place. (And you might just have to be a little tiny bit crazy, too.)

Why do many people find their life-long friends in the kids who live next door to their parents' house, the kids they go to school with and the ones they share college dorm rooms with?

According to sociologists, three factors have to be met in order for people to become friends:
1. Proximity
2. repeated, unplanned interactions
3. a setting that encourages people to confide in each other.

The amazing little things in life

Later in life, let’s say past 30, these factors just don’t seem to meet anymore and it becomes increasingly hard to find the kind of friends you can really rely on.

There are people in my life that I share a past with, people who know my younger, childless me, who know all my relatives, including the ones who passed away a long time ago, and that’s priceless. But most of those people live far away. They are not there to share the little things (which are sometimes bigger than we might think).

And there are the people I share my day-to-day life with. These are the people that I feel very strongly about, looking back on the year that is passing.

A crowded space

We live in Düsseldorf, in a row of town houses at the end of a cul-de-sac, where children have the right away and cars are supposed to move very slowly. In total, three rows of town houses form a U around that roundabout. In our row alone, there are 12 parties. The joint space is shared by cars (so many cars!) and children (so many children!).

This is a setup. And I can tell you, it makes us all crazy some days. But also, there it is: 1. Proximity, 2. repeated, unplanned interactions, and 3. a setting that encourages people to confide in each other. It’s all right there.

Triumphs and tears

My neighbors and I, we see each other a lot. We see each other in all sorts of conditions. After we come back from the hair dresser, sure, but also after spending a night getting puked on by a toddler, after a really bad day at work, on the day we get promoted, on the day a loved one dies, on the day we find out we’re going to have a baby, on the day when we just want to crawl up in a ball and see no-one. We see each others' triumphs, we see each others' tears. Talk about a setting that encourages people to confide in each other.

It’s insanity on some days, and its like family on others. (Well, doesn’t family always come coupled with at least a little insanity?) I never thought I could be happy amidst this madness of a living arrangement. But I am.

That’s why this one goes out to my neighbors.

People who are there when you need them

I’m not saying that I connect on a deep level with all of my neighbors. But I’m for sure lucky because I’m surrounded by people that I can rely on in a crisis. (Some of us have actually gotten shockingly close to delivering each others' babies.)

The list of things that neighbors have done for me over the past year include:
Entertain my crying child so that I could have a cup of coffee, buy groceries for me, put out my garbage cans when I forgot to, give me legal advice, take my kid to day-care, drive me to the airport, hug me when I needed a hug, tolerate me when I didn’t manage to be the best version of myself, take care of a mouse our cat caught in the basement, repair the kitchen cabinet, buy me flowers because I looked sad, call the ex-boss on a Sunday so he would see me in his dentist's office first thing on Monday morning, feed my cat, have a gin tonic with me at the playground on a warm summer evening, remove the leaves from my front yard, make me coffee, bring me home-cooked food, help me bath my kids, leave chocolate Santas on my front step… and simply share the insanity (and wonder) of raising children.

The list of things that neighbors have just given to me out of pure niceness includes: a baby crib, two kids bicycles, a scooter, tons of kids clothes, stuffed animals, puzzles, children books …

Should I leave my phone on?

Finally, here are a few things that my neighbors have said to me, just over the past year:

„I walked by and heard the baby cry. May I help you put the two little ones to bed tonight?“ (J., 13, who is just great with little kids. And just great. As is her amazing sister A.)
„Should I leave my phone on tonight, in case you have to go to the emergency room?“ (M. who is always there for me, no matter what. I could fill this page just with quotes from her.)
„No, don’t leave yet. You might as well puke in my bathroom.“ (C., after I told her I had to leave because I wasn’t feeling well.)
„Should I bring you a cup of coffee?“ (J., while I was out front, watching my kids…)
„I am going to the grocery store - do you need anything?“ (Everybody, all the time).

Well, its Christmas, and the year is drawing to an end. A year, in which my baby grew into a toddler, and my toddler (almost) grew into a kid. And I really feel that I couldn’t have done it without my neighbors.

So thank you, people who live close to me - neighbors, friends, family, whatever you may be.
Thank you for being there every day of the week.

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